4-Diamond AAA rating goes to five local hotels

In the hotel industry, a Four Diamond rating from AAA is a big deal, even for gleaming new convention hotels.

When officials of the Hilton Columbus Downtown announced it had received the top AAA mark at a recent meeting with the hotel’s staff, “A big cheer went up,” said Julia Hansen, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, which opened in October 2012.

Four other local hotels received the recently announced Four Diamond designation: Embassy Suites Columbus Airport, Hilton Columbus at Easton, Hilton Columbus/Polaris and the Renaissance Columbus Downtown.

“It’s one of the most-important designations and is looked upon by the industry and by consumers as a way to find great hotels,” said Matt MacLaren, CEO of the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association.

High ratings and high scores on customer-service rankings can lead to more room bookings and additional convention business, Hansen said. She declined to give specific occupancy numbers for the Hilton Columbus Downtown in its first full year of operation but said, “We beat expectations.

“The longer you work in the hotel industry, the more you understand how important this is.” She added that earning four diamonds was one of the hotel’s goals when it opened. “It’s the best-known rating system.”

Fifteen Ohio hotels received four diamonds, while only one — the Inn Walden in Aurora — earned five, the top designation. The Westin Columbus was awarded four diamonds in 2013, but received three in the most-recent rankings.

“This shows we have some great hotels here” (in central Ohio), MacLaren said. “And it shows they’re doing well and are well-managed and are putting money back into their properties.”

There are about 240 hotels in the Columbus area, says Experience Columbus, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

Two local restaurants received AAA’s Four Diamond rating: the Refectory Restaurant & Bistro and M at Miranova. Ten Ohio restaurants received this rating, while none achieved five diamonds.

To achieve four diamonds, a hotel must “be stylish and refined with upscale attributes,” AAA says. “Guests receive personalized attention from an experienced staff and expensive amenities in a luxurious setting.”

Three of the five local hotels to garner four diamonds fly Hilton flags. The Hilton at Easton has been on the list since 2001.

“It ties in with our brand standards,” Hansen said, adding that the amenities the Hilton Columbus Downtown has include an indoor pool and whirlpool, fitness center, executive suite, in-room dining, restaurant/bar and valet parking.

AAA inspectors make unannounced visits to 1,200 hotels every week.

Several other local hotels offer excellent service and amenities, MacLaren said. “But they don’t have all the amenities required to get four diamonds. A lot of times, it’s because of food and beverage. ... They don’t have a full-service restaurant.”

To make the AAA Four-Diamond grade, a restaurant must “offer a distinctive dining experience, complete with creative chefs, imaginative menus, fresh top-quality ingredients and knowledgeable staff,” AAA says.

January 21, 2014
Steve Wartenberg
The Columbus Dispatch
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